Buffalo school officials Wednesday evening defended their efforts to curb student violence and urged both students and parents to do more to help.
Interim School SuperintendentYvonne Hargrave asked students to quickly contact staff members if they feel threatened or see signs of conflict between classmates.
"Think before you do anything," Hargrave said during a meeting of the Board of Education. "Go see your principal, go see your counselor, go see that favorite teacher. We have a bunch of wonderful teachers out there who do care."
Hargrave said parents must stand behind school administrators when they take steps to ensure safety or discipline unruly students. "Please work with the schools, not against the schools," Hargrave said.
Her comments were in response to a new wave of criticism of the district's handling of school safety issues from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which held a rally outside City Hall before the meeting.
"Our schools are safe, but we're concerned that they're not safe enough yet," BTF President Philip Rumore said during the meeting. "I know nobody likes to talk about this because it makes our district look bad. But the truth has to be told. We're going to be back here until something happens."
The BTF has called for the re-establishment of alternative schools for troubled students and for a review of the district's suspension and readmittance policies.
Hargrave said that district officials are researching school safety measures in cities across the country and that students who are suspended for violent acts will no longer be sent right back to the schools where they caused trouble.
Some will be placed on home instruction, and others will be assigned to one of two opportunity centers where they will receive small group instruction and counseling on behavior issues, she said. Hargrave said that city schools "are safe right now" but that "we can always do better."
She urged parents to see for themselves by visiting schools, including Lafayette High School, where several teachers have been injured this school year trying to break up or prevent fights. "Please phone me if you want to walk through Lafayette," Hargrave said.
At the same time, she said, administrators should not overreact. "You want to have safe schools, but you want to be fair to all the children," she said. "You don't want to treat them like criminals if they're not criminals."
Eva Doyle, a Buffalo teacher for 28 years before retiring in June, said teachers should be trained to prevent trouble before it starts. "Confrontations build up," she said. "There is always a warning before a fight."
Jack Coyle, the board's Park District member, said families need to do more to ensure safe schools.
"(The responsibility) is exclusively with the school district, and that's wrong," he said. "We are going to start holding students accountable."